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Senate Dems hold out on spending deal, risking shutdown

Senate Democrats are holding out on backing a bill to keep the government funded through April 28, risking a government shutdown that would begin on Saturday.

Democrats may still back the funding measure, but a demand to extend miners’ health care coverage for a full year is holding up a deal.

{mosads}The House easily approved the legislation Thursday afternoon, but without an agreement. the Senate can’t take an initial vote until Saturday at 1 a.m. Government funding is due to run out at the end of the day Friday. 

Democratic objections are led by Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who are both up for reelection in 2018 in states carried by President-elect Donald Trump.

They want to extend expiring healthcare benefits for retired coal miners for at least a year. The current bill would extend the benefits for retired miners for four months, to coincide with the expiration of broader government funding April 28.

“Everybody in the caucus is insisting on demanding those two things and working to get the Republicans to agree: Buy America and one year [of health benefits] for the miners,” Brown told reporters Tuesday.

“The bill that they have put in front of us that the House of Representatives has given us, it is this horrendous and it is inhumane,” Manchin said late Thursday afternoon. “Someone says, ‘Oh, the House has left.’ I’m sorry that they were inconvenienced and had to leave early go to home for Christmas.” 

While Democrats broadly support the provisions demanded by Brown and Manchin, they are undecided on whether to block or delay the funding measure to increase their leverage, leery of risking a temporary government shutdown.

Manchin and centrist Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) met with incoming Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) to discuss their strategy going forward. 

Asked whether Senate Democrats are unified behind the idea of blocking the funding stopgap, a senior Senate Democratic aide said, “We’ll see.”

Schumer also directed questions about their strategy to Manchin as he was leaving the meeting. 

Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) argued that Manchin and Brown got a major concession and should be “grateful” that GOP leaders added the four-month extension of miners’ health care benefits.

“If I were Sen. Manchin, I would say I’m glad we got something for my miners in the bill and I’m going to keep working on getting more,” he said.

He said Manchin and Brown may be able to keep the Senate in session over the weekend — possibly causing a brief government shutdown — but he predicted Republicans would have enough votes to pass both the continuing resolution and the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA).

“The irony is they can’t really accomplish the goal they set out for themselves. They can keep us here a little longer, but we’ll go ahead and grind through the clock till Monday if we need to to get it done,” Cornyn added, referring to both bills, which he wants to pass before adjourning the 114th Congress.

He also suggested Manchin’s hardball tactics would undercut lawmakers’ willingness to work with him on the miners’ healthcare and a separate pension fund next year. 

“By sort of making everybody mad, and keeping everybody here a long time, it doesn’t strike me as a way to get a lot of cooperation,” he said.

Senate Republican leadership is showing no signs they are willing to cave in the fight. 

A Senate GOP aide on Thursday said the Appropriations Committee remained firm on the bill’s current language for the miner program. 

But Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), the House Appropriations Committee Chairman, is signaling he’ll stay in town in case the Senate makes changes. 

With less than 36 hours until a government shutdown, Democrats are hedging their bets on whether they will ultimately block the CR. 

“What everybody is hoping is that we’ll find a longer-term solution for women who have lost their husbands,” Heitkamp told reporters after a meeting with Minority Leader Harry Reid’s office. 

“We hope we’ll be able to get relief and be able to deliver a Christmas present to the most sympathetic working people in America.” 

Both sides are also busy spinning who will be to blame if they blow Friday’s deadline. 

Cornyn said Democrats would be seen as responsible if “truth and justice” prevailed. 

But Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) told reporters that “if Republicans want to shut it down, they will. They run the thing.” 

“We are all very committed that we need to find healthcare for miners and widows for a year,” he said. Asked whether he was voting against cloture, Kaine shot back: “I didn’t say that.”

Both Brown and Manchin met with coal miners Thursday amid the stalled fight. 

“Right now almost every one of these retirees and widows have gotten a notice earlier this month or late November that your healthcare is running out in December,” Brown told a group from Zanesville, Ohio.

“If you do the four-month [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell [R-Ky.] proposal, they’ll get another notice in probably January, maybe February, saying your healthcare is going to run out,” he said, referring to the provision currently in the funding bill.

– Updated at 5:22 p.m.

Tags Chuck Schumer Donald Trump Harry Reid Heidi Heitkamp Joe Manchin John Cornyn Mark Warner Sherrod Brown Tim Kaine
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